All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 15
Somehow, we've gotten through 14 weeks of the NFL season. It certainly hasn't shaped up like many of us expected, but really, when does it?
What we have, though, is eight teams with at least a 90 percent chance of making the playoffs and three others with a greater than 50 percent chance of grabbing a spot, according to our algorithms.
Then there's the AFC South and NFC East. Those two divisions, though producing some low quality football, are possibly the most interesting -- especially this week when some probabilities can be greatly altered.
Again our top spot in the rankings remains unchanged for the 13th straight week, but the number-two team is closer than any team has been to the top spot in quite a while.
Unlike many other rankings across the internet, these are not some subjective rankings by a writer -- trust me, those would be way worse. Instead we use nERD, which is our calculation of how good a team really is, based on expected point differential against a league average team. If the team's nERD rating is 10, they would be expected to win by 10 points against a league-average opponent. Throughout the rankings we’ll also be using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which is used as part of the nERD score. NEP measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data.
Each week, we’ll list all 32 teams from worst to best with a more detailed breakdown of five different teams. The highlighted teams will rotate each week, which will lead to each team being featured around three times during the course of the season.
32. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -8.44, Record: 4-9, Last Week: 31)
31. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -6.41, Record: 5-8, Last Week: 29)
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -6.22, Record: 5-8, Last Week: 32)
At the 30th spot, the Jaguars once again come in around the bottom of our rankings. It’s nothing new for the Jacksonville team. They’ve been down around this area for most of the year and haven’t ranked higher than 27th in any week during the season. But still, there’s a ton to like about this Jaguars team -- especially going forward -- and they’re just a game behind the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans for the division lead in the AFC South.
It’s arguable that the Jaguars have the brightest future in the division, and as fun as it might be to see this offense in the playoffs this season, the future is going to be what the Jags need to focus on. We have Jacksonville with just a 2.2 percent chance of winning the AFC South this season.
Blake Bortles has suddenly become the most polarizing quarterback in the NFL. His raw stats are impressive -- over 3,500 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions -- but they haven’t told the full story. He ranks 23rd in Passing NEP per drop back and has been very fortunate with some interceptable passes that haven’t ended up in defenders’ hands.
What Bortles has to help him out in those scenarios is two of the best young wide receivers in the NFL: Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. 23 receivers have seen at least 100 targets this season, and Robinson ranks fourth among them in Reception NEP per target. Hurns has missed some time but has actually been more productive on a per-target basis, ranking sixth among all receivers in Reception NEP per target on the 85 passes thrown his way this season.
29. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -5.71, Record: 4-9, Last Week: 24)
28. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -5.55, Record: 4-9, Last Week: 25)
27. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -5.45, Record: 5-8, Last Week: 28)
26. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -5.37, Record: 3-10, Last Week: 30)
25. Chicago Bears (nERD: -5.25, Record: 5-8, Last Week: 26)
24. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -5.22, Record: 3-10, Last Week: 27)
23. Detroit Lions (nERD: -4.99, Record: 4-9, Last Week: 23)
22. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -4.83, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 19)
For most of the season, the Colts were the favorite in the AFC South because there was no other option. But even though many kept expecting them to pull away from the pack eventually, the Colts continued falling back into it. Now they’re going to Week 15 with possibly their third quarterback and as slight underdogs to the Texans in the division. We currently have the Texans with a 49.2 percent chance of winning the division and the Colts at 48.6 percent -- basically a 50-50 proposition.
It works out this week Indianapolis will host Houston for a game that should give the winner a clear lead in the division and come close to acting as an AFC South title game. Following the game, the schedules are pretty similar for each team. Both play Tennessee -- Houston on the road in Week 16, Indy at home Week 17 -- and Houston will host Jacksonville (our 30th ranked team) in Week 17 while Indianapolis will be on the road against Miami (our 31st ranked team) in Week 16.
The concern for Indianapolis this week will come at the quarterback position, though that’s been a concern pretty much all season. Andrew Luck’s start was disappointing and eventually derailed by injury. Then, Matt Hasselbeck took over to what was an efficient start, but that production was minimized the longer he played. He’s now the 22nd best quarterback by Passing NEP per drop back, just two spots ahead of Luck.
Maybe the Colts could have continued to manage with Hasselbeck under center and a less vertical-oriented passing game, but he was injured this past Sunday. Colts coaches expect him to be “available” against Houston, whatever that may mean. Another positive sign is that Luck will return to practice on Wednesday, though he's not expected to play on Sunday.
For the season, the Colts rank 24th in Adjusted NEP per play on offense, which is likely to be a problem against a Houston defense ranked 9th in Adjusted NEP per play -- regardless of who plays quarterback. Though it’s safe to assume Indianapolis would rather have one of Hasselbeck or Luck than Charlie Whitehurst for what’s basically a must-win division game, the Texans will counter by starting T.J. Yates.
21. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -4.14, Record: 3-10, Last Week: 21)
20. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -3.29, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 17)
19. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -2.98, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 22)
18. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -2.52, Record: 4-9, Last Week: 20)
17. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: -2.31, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 18)
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -1.42, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 14)
15. Houston Texans (nERD: -1.12, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 12)
14. New York Giants (nERD: -0.69, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 16)
Eli Manning had one of the best games of his career Monday night against the Miami Dolphins. He completed 27 of his 31 pass attempts for 331 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. By NEP, it was the second best quarterback performance of the week behind Russell Wilson, who is in a stretch of throwing roughly a billion touchdowns per game. The game for Manning was the best in what has -- in a very under-the-radar way -- been his best regular season.
It’s been hard for many to notice, or really care, because so many other things about the 2015 New York Giants have been terrible, but Eli’s 2015 has statistically been his best season. And it’s not particularly close. Manning’s best regular season came in 2009 with a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.18. This year, it’s 0.21, which ranks seventh among the 40 quarterback who have dropped back at least 100 times.
He’s certainly been helped by Ben McAdoo’s faster paced offense compared to the downfield attack under Kevin Gilbride, and that’s helped with the efficiency. It’s also helped that Odell Beckham is one of the players catching passes from Manning this season. Beckham has been a monster this season and leads all receivers with at least 100 targets in Reception NEP per target. He’s at 0.94 Reception NEP per target, meaning at that high of a volume he’s still worth almost a point every time he’s targeted. No other receiver over that target threshold is above 0.89.
The problem with the Giants is the rest of the roster. The run game ranks 30th in Adjusted NEP per play, and the defense ranks 22nd. Manning and Beckham can only do so much, and the rest of the roster is a big reason why the Giants are third in our odds to win the NFC East at 29.4 percent.
13. Washington Redskins (nERD: -0.57, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 13)
12. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -0.29, Record: 8-5, Last Week: 15)
11. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 2.53, Record: 6-7, Last Week: 10)
10. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 3.04, Record: 9-4, Last Week: 11)
9. Denver Broncos (nERD: 3.65, Record: 10-3, Last Week: 8)
8. New York Jets (nERD: 4.29, Record: 8-5, Last Week: 9)
The other New York team is doing pretty well for itself. The Jets are our favorite to grab the last playoff spot in the AFC, which would likely leave the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the picture with the Kansas City Chiefs in the other spot. The Jets now have a 59.1 percent chance of making the playoffs.
As expected, the Jets defense is one of the best units in the league, sixth in Adjusted NEP per play. The amount of talent up front on the defensive line has been a major reason why Muhammad Wilkerson will get paid in the offseason. The secondary still ranks seventh in Adjusted NEP -- even with Darrelle Revis missing time and showing his age while he’s on the field and with Antonio Cromartie's declining coverage.
The more surprising part of the success has been the offense. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker have combined to be one of the best receiving duos in the league this year. Maybe that’s not too surprising given the talent of the two players individually, but it’s a good sign that talent is being utilized. Decker is third in Reception NEP per target among receivers with 100 or more targets, and Marshall is not far behind at eighth. The efficiency is even more impressive when noted that these two receivers are almost exclusively the players who catch passes for the Jets. The two combine to be targets on 50.7 percent of the Jets’ passing attempts, and no other player on the roster has more than 50 targets.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 5.44, Record: 8-5, Last Week: 7)
6. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 7.90, Record: 10-3, Last Week: 4)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 9.04, Record: 8-5, Last Week: 2)
4. New England Patriots (nERD: 9.04, Record: 11-2, Last Week: 6)
3. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 9.68, Record: 8-5, Last Week: 5)
Our numbers have consistently liked Seattle more than the standings, and now the team is finally playing like the metrics suggested. The Seahawks are on a dominant four-game winning streak that has brought them from the outside of the playoff picture to about as close to a lock as a team could be at this point without having anything clinched. Seattle now has a 96 percent chance of making the playoffs, likely as the 5 seed that will get to play whoever wins the NFC East.
In the middle of the win streak was a game against the Steelers, which -- despite a being a win -- had some wavering on the future prospects of the Seahawks. Seattle gave up 30 points, and the popular narrative was to say no one was afraid of the Seahawks defense anymore. In the two games since the Steelers game, Seahawks opponents have scored a combined 13 points, and Seattle sits as the third best defense by Adjusted NEP per play behind Carolina and Denver.
The defense is also in line to get better over the next few weeks. One of the biggest weaknesses of the secondary was the cornerback spot across from Richard Sherman, which had been occupied by Cary Williams. Williams was an odd signing at the time it happened, and he never really fit with the rest of the defense. After two weeks of being inactive. he was released despite $7 million guaranteed to him. Seattle recognized their mistake and fixed it by not continuing to run Williams out while he was harmful to what they were trying to accomplish.
DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane were picked on a bit in the Pittsburgh game but have improved in the two weeks since while seeing bigger roles -- Lane was also coming off an injury for that game, seeing his first action since the Super Bowl. Seattle is sixth in Adjusted NEP per play against the pass and is going to continue to be a dangerous team if they can shut down opposing offenses like they have while keeping up their current scoring pace.
2. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 11.15, Record: 13-0, Last Week: 3)
1. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 12.40, Record: 11-2, Last Week: 1)